Aussie football pins hopes on star-studded panel
A few short weeks ago, the A-League was in full swing.
Wellington Phoenix was firing on all cylinders while Sydney FC marching towards another title with typical swagger. Western Utd was enjoying a rollercoaster of a debut season while young guns like the Toure brothers put their names in lights.
Then the coronavirus struck, and the outlook for Australian football suddenly looked bleak. Players and staff were thrust into isolation and uncertainty. Some returned to overseas homes - some may not return.
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But if ever a reason for optimism about the future was needed, the Football Federation Australia just delivered in spades. Monday's announcement of a new advisory panel could be the gamechanger Australian football needs to guide the development of the next 'golden generation' - and tackle the game's biggest issues.
The panel, called the 'Starting XI', features a variety of Australia's greatest past players, coaches, and innovators. They will come together to advise the FFA on a range of tough issues, "from grassroots to international football, national teams, player pathways, and the overall wellbeing of the game", as CEO James Johnson said in a statement.
The illustrious panel includes a number of former Socceroos stars: Mark Bosnich, Josip Skoko, Mark Viduka, Frank Farina, and Paul Okon. It's a group that spans the media, coaching, and player development world.
Then there's trailblazers in the women's game: Heather Garriock, Clare Polkinghorne, Vicki Linton, Joey Peters, and Connie Selby. Many of those were (or still are) top players before becoming respected names in coaching and player development.
There's also Ron Smith, a former Perth Glory coach most recognisable for his leadership of the AIS (Australian Institute for Sport) football academy, which was hugely influential in the development of the so-called golden generation of Socceroos which starred at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Each will serve "an initial two-year term on a voluntary basis", the FFA statement reveals.
They will work with the organisation's Football Development Committee (FDC) - which also includes former Socceroo Mark Bresciano and former Matilda Amy Duggan - and engage with a number of coaches of national teams of various ages including both senior squads.
In short, the FFA has reached out to Australian football legends to fix problems at every level of the football pyramid.
It is very much a long-overdue move, and goes some way towards proving James Johnson's claim that the FFA under his leadership would put football first.
The FFA has had any number of panels, reviews, largely unsuccessful attempts to right the ship in recent years.
But this one is unprecedented in its depth and breadth.
The surprise inclusion of Mark Viduka stands out the most.
Just a couple of weeks ago Dukes spoke out stridently about the FFA's handling of the world game in Australia. One of Australia's greatest strikers and captains blasted the FFA for not better utilising his knowledge and passion of the game, and criticised its youth development program in a scorching interview.
Rather than run from his criticism (as prior leaders of the organisation have in the past), the FFA has done the opposite - and should be praised for it.
Despite being in the middle of a pressing crisis, Johnson has managed to create a platform for what he calls "eleven of our best football brains" to ensure the organisation is developing the long-term future of the sport.
Viduka and the other 10 members of the panel who have volunteered to be a part of the project are not just some of our finest football minds, they are also some of our most passionate.
We have heard many promises in the past about Australian football. Many opportunities have slipped away. Let us hope this is the beginning of a new path forward.
Originally published as Aussie football pins hopes on star-studded panel